Thursday, May 17, 2012

Hand Applique Tutorial

If you've ever thought about giving hand applique a try, but weren't sure how, you've come to the right place.  There are many methods for doing hand applique, but the one I am sharing here is the one that I find the easiest.

First, you will need some freezer paper.  You can find it at the grocery store where they sell the tin foil and plastic wrap.  You can also find it in quilt shops and fabric stores (aka JoAnn Fabrics).  They even make freezer paper in 8.5" x 11" sheets that can be put right into your printer, so you can print patterns directly to it!  If you aren't able to do that, then you can do it the old-fashioned way -- by tracing the pattern of your applique piece (in this case, a heart) onto a piece of freezer paper.  Then cut it out along the lines you just drew.

Next, place the heart shiny side down on the right side of your fabric and use a hot iron (on the "dry" setting -- no steam) to temporarily adhere the heart to the fabric.  If you aren't familiar with freezer paper, it is plastic-coated on one side.  When you press it to the fabric with the hot iron, it melts the plastic a little which makes the paper stick to your fabric.  It will stay as long as you need it, then peel off cleanly when you don't need it anymore.  I have found you can also re-use your freezer paper two or three times before the plastic wears off completely and it will no longer stick.

Once you have the heart in place, use a pair of sharp scissors to cut out your fabric heart about 3/8" beyond the pattern.  This will be your seam allowance that you will turn under to give the applique a nice, finished edge.

Use your fingers to fold over and "finger press" the seam allowance back toward the wrong side of the fabric.  If your pattern has curves (as this heart does), you will need to clip the curves to be able to fold it over flat (see next photo).

Notice how the bottom point is folded straight across at the tip of the point and then the sides are folded in one at a time to make the point.

Also, for an inside point (like at the top of this heart) you will need to clip into the center "v" to be able to fold the seam allowance back.

Once you have creased the seam allowance all the way around, you can remove the freezer paper template, which can actually be reused a few times before discarding.

This is how it should look from the back.

Now it is time to baste the seam allowance.  The color thread is not important, as these stitches will be removed in a later step and will not be seen in the final product.
Use a simple running stitch being careful not to pull the thread too tight.  The fabric should lay flat and there should be no puckering.

Here is a closer look at the basting stitches.

This is what the back side looks like with half of it basted.

This is what it should look like from the back when the basting is done.

Close-up of the bottom point.

All basted!

Now comes the fun part!  Position the applique on your foundation fabric.  I am stitching my heart to a 6" block.  To aide in centering the applique, I folded the foundation block in half (in both directions) and finger pressed it.
This gives creases which serve as guidelines to help center the applique.

Pin the applique in place.  I like to use applique pins, which are smaller and have smoother heads to keep the thread from getting tangled on them.

Always use thread that matches the applique piece.  I like to use an "applique sharp" needle and cotton thread.  These needles are very fine and have a very sharp point.  One downside is that the eye is pretty small, so you might need a needle threader to help thread the needle.

They can also bend fairly easily, so have several on hand in case yours gets bent.

Begin by tying a knot at the end of the thread.  Working from the top, poke the needle up through the back, catching a few threads of the applique.  Now put the needle down into the foundation fabric, close to the applique fabric, then angle it up and back through the applique fabric, catching just a few threads of the fabric.  Continue this stitch until your thread begins to run short.  

To finish off a thread, from the back side, take a few small stitches in the foundation fabric (underneath the applique, where it won't show), tie off a small knot and cut the thread.  When you are finished, it should look something like this from the back.

A close-up of the back.

Once you have sewn all the way around your applique piece, carefully remove the basting stitches.  
You have now just completed your applique block!  Congratulations!

Now that you know how to applique, take a look at some of the things you can create:

A beautiful, flowery border!
A garden of daisies!
A quilted alphabet!
A menagerie!
Whatever you decide to make, have fun with the possibilities of this technique!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My First Quilt

Scrappy Squares, 1989
Well, here it is.  The very first quilt I ever made.  I don't remember exactly when I started it or how long it took me to make, but I do know that I finished it in 1989 -- the same year I graduated from high school.
I was inspired by the children's book The Patchwork Quilt by Valerie Fluornoy, which was featured on the PBS show "Reading Rainbow."  It is a story about an African American girl and her family.  The little girl's grandmother lives with them and teaches her how to make a quilt using all sorts of scraps from their old clothes. It takes the little girl, her grandmother, and her mother an entire year to make the quilt.  When it is completed, the whole family reflects on the year gone by and the memories that each patch holds for each family member.
This is what sparked my interest and made me dig out a box of scrap fabrics and start sorting it out, cutting it up, and stitching it together!

The overall size of this quilt is approximately 52.5" x 85".  Each square is 4" (finished) and hand-cut by me using a pair of scissors and a cardboard template that I made.  This was before the advent of rotary cutters and rulers (at least before I knew about their existence).
Notice my attempt at a border -- I alternated the same two fabrics all the way around.  The only fabric I purchased for this quilt was the backing (which was an inexpensive sheet I bought at K-Mart -- something I would NEVER do today).
All of the fabrics on the top came from a hand-me-down fabric stash.  This was a cardboard box full of my great-grandmother's scrap fabric, plus some scrap stuff my mom had laying around the house.
Gram's favorite color was blue.  Hence, the overabundance of blue in this quilt.  She worked as a seamstress at a garment factory in Boston, so she had a lot of fabric laying around.  Some of the flowery fabrics were still in the shape of skirt pockets when I received them -- remnants from the factory assembly line.

These fabrics always make me think of Gram, especially that darker blue one near the bottom right. It looks like flowers and blueberries. It reminds me of a dress she used to wear that was made of similar fabric.
Germaine, 1914
Here is my great-grandmother, Gram.  I'm sure she made this dress she is wearing. She was about 17 or 18 years old in this picture.  She was born in Belgium in 1895.  This was around the time she immigrated to Boston in 1914 (I think?).

And here she is in a fancier outfit.  Her name was Germaine (my mother's maternal grandmother).  She lived to the age of 93, passing away in February, 1989.  She was always a very sweet and loving great-grandmother to me and my siblings.
Below, are two close-ups of my quilting and proof positive that I had no idea what I was doing.  The purpose of the quilting stitches is to keep the three layers of the quilt together -- the top, batting, and backing -- and to keep the batting from clumping and shifting as the quilt is used and washed.  I understood all of that, but what perplexed me was how to accomplish all this quilting without having unsightly knots showing on the back of the quilt.

My solution (with some guidance from my mother who also knew very little about quilting) was to go ahead and do all the quilting with the knots showing on the back.  Then add a second layer of backing to cover all the knots.  I kept this additional layer in place by tying knots with embroidery thread in each corner of the squares.
If you look at these pictures, you should be able to see the white stitches that outline each square.  I did those all by hand.  Then after I added the second layer of backing, I tied the blue knots that you can see (barely visible) in the corners of each square.  The blue knots go all the way through the top, batting, first backing and second backing.
I used the "punch and stab" method, which is just what it sounds like.  You punch the needle down through the top, pull it through from the back, then stab it up again from behind -- very tedious and not all that efficient.
I also didn't know much about thread either.  My mom had told me that quilting thread is thicker than regular thread.  So, I went to the store and bought this thread that is actually intended for crocheting!  You can probably tell by looking at the picture that it was pretty thick.  I had to use a really large-eye needle to even get it threaded.

This is the cat fabric that my mother had chosen as a girl for Gram to make her a dress out of.  For one reason or another, the dress was never made, and I have now inherited about two yards of this fabric.
 Yes, that's a guy on a trapeze and Christmas ornaments to the bottom left of him!  Notice that not only are there no borders on this quilt, but there is also no binding.  For any non-quilters reading this, the binding is supposed to go around the entire edge to finish off the quilt.  
When I sewed that second back on, I simply put it right sides together with the top, sewing all the way around and leaving a small opening to "turn" it right side out.  Then I stitched the opening closed by hand.  Not an entirely unusual way to finish a quilt but certainly not the preferred method by most quilters.

So, lots of mistakes, but you have to start somewhere.  At least I knew, even back then, how important it is to sign and date your work!

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Daisy Wall Hanging

Everything's Coming Up Daisies, 2000

I called this one "Everything's Coming Up Daisies."  I'm not exactly sure when I started this, but I finished it in 2000.  The overall size of this is 26 1/2" x 38."  This actually started out as a quilt kit that I purchased at a quilt show -- "Buffalo Flowers" by P & B Textiles.  It came with the fabrics seen here on the front and a pattern.  I didn't care for the shape of the flower heads in the original pattern, so I changed it to a daisy design instead.  I also added some three-dimensional elements to my quilt which are not part of the original design.

This entire quilt is hand sewn.  I believe this is also the first quilt in which I used hand applique.  It was after making this quilt that I realized how much I enjoyed doing handwork.  I have since found ways to incorporate handwork into many of my other projects.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Make A Handmade Book Cover

I am so excited to have finally made this!

I had an idea to make some fabric book covers for a while now, but this week I finally got down to business and made one!  I am so happy with how this turned out.

As I typically do, I tried to stick with using only materials I had on  hand (not that hard to do, since I have a plentiful stash of fabric scraps, buttons, ribbons, and other odds and ends).

I started by doing a quick Internet search to figure out the logistics of construction (I didn't use a pattern).  So, first I found this site which got my creative juices flowing.  Next I found this helpful tutorial video at  I basically followed the video tutorial's instructions, but I did make a few alterations, which I will share:
  • I sewed all seams with a 1/4" seam allowance.
  • I added some lightweight fusible interfacing -- fused it to the fabric that goes on the inside of the book cover.
  • I added a ribbon bookmark, a pen holder, and a closure tab.
  • I added some decorative embellishments.

Also, if you decide to make one of these, I have a couple of tips and suggestions:

1.  If you are making the cover for a spiral notebook (as I have), when you measure the width of your book cover, do it with the notebook in the CLOSED position.  I measured mine both open and closed and there was a significant difference in the result.  With the notebook closed, the measurement is larger.  You want to make sure you have accounted for those extra inches before cutting out your pieces of fabric.  Use a flexible tape measure and wrap it around the book to get the measurement.

2.  If you plan to topstitch, add more than 1/2" seam allowance all the way around.  I would increase that to 5/8" -- which is the same as adding 1 1/4" to the height and width of your book.  So, for example, if your book measures 8" high x 12" wide, cut your main pieces of fabric 9 1/4" x 13 1/4".
The reason I would do this is because I originally intended to finish the book cover off by topstitching all the way around, as shown in the video.  However, I did not end up doing that because after checking the fit of the cover with my notebook, I realized that topstitching the top and bottom edges was going to make it an extremely tight fit for my notebook.  There really wasn't adequate roominess for me to topstitch without compromising the fit.  The ends were a bit more roomy because I had added more than 1/2" to the width of the notebook, so instead of topstitching the entire book cover, I just did a little decorative blanket stitch on the ends.

3.  Sew your embellishments BEFORE sewing the pieces of the book cover together.  The only exception is that I didn't sew the pink button (for the closure tab) until the end because I wasn't sure of the positioning until after it was all together.  My stitches ended up hidden behind the inside cover anyway, so it worked out just fine.

Well, that's about it.  If you have any other questions, feel free to comment below and I will try and reply as best as I can.  

Good Luck!  And remember:  When life gives you scraps, make yourself a beautiful book cover!